First, I’d like to say: I know all of the approved ways of managing stress and anxiety.

I know you’re supposed to move, ok? Exercise! I know. I know about healthy eating and getting enough sleep, connecting with loved ones, spending time in nature.

As it turns out, when you’re in the middle of a pandemic with a kid who can’t move, absolutely none of it applies.

Exercise! Sure. Except I can’t leave Echo* alone for very long. A walk around the block or to the library is about as much as I can manage, and that not very often. Echo is using a wheelchair now, and getting out with them is challenging–them plus the dog is extremely challenging, as our beloved Impossible Puppy loves nothing more than to careen from one side of the sidewalk to the other, investigating every passing odour, planting herself to the ground through her nose until they are fully understood, and heaving the wheelchair to and fro in her wake. Yes, she is ten pounds. Friends, she knows how to use them.

Healthy eating: Sure. I will get to all that fresh, healthy produce once I’ve finished making the next round of doctor calls, refilling prescriptions, and chasing the puppy off their bad hip for the tenth time today. (“Bad hip” being a relative term; the “good hip” is, right now, the one they can still move independently, but it still hurts, a lot.) Sleep would be grand. I would dream of sleep, if I could get to a dreaming state reliably. It is stress, in part; it’s also that, now that Echo’s bedroom’s been moved to the main floor (stairs are out of the question; the pain is terrible, and their balance is worse. I lived in terror of their falling), I can’t get up and out of bed and go do something else when sleep is hard to come by. Echo’s not sleeping well either, for obvious reasons. There is one position they can normally sleep in.

Let me describe this in more detail:

They can’t lie flat on their back; the angle causes too much pain in their hips (incidentally, this makes hair washing a treat, since the only gizmo we could find to facilitate hair washing for someone who can no longer get into or out of a shower necessitates lying flat on your back. So instead of this being a relaxing break from difficult circumstances, hair washing is a painful exercise we carry out only when absolutely necessary). Lying on the side of their ‘bad hip’ is out of the question. So they can sleep right now only when positioned carefully on their ‘good hip’ in such a way that the bad hip is also supported relatively comfortably.

They start in a seated position, then use their right hand to lift the right knee up slightly, and maneouver the left foot in underneath it, then down towards the ankles so the legs are crossed there. Then, very very slowly, they lean back and to the left to use the weight of the body to lever their entire self to their left-hand side. There is normally some pain, even on a good night, as the hips are jostled around, but if they move slowly enough they can get to a sleeping position. We put on the TENS machine and I bring over an ice pack or two for anywhere that needs it and we cross our fingers for a restful night.

On a bad night, even this doesn’t work. Getting into the sleeping position involves screaming and crying for an hour. Or once in it, their ‘good’ left hip starts to hurt, and they can’t sleep after all. There have been nights without sleep from pain.

So: if Echo is asleep, I can’t leave my room. Or I could, but I’d risk waking them, and starting all over the whole process of “I can’t find a way to lie down that doesn’t hurt.”

Exercise, nutrition, and sleep, then, are pretty well out, for stress-reduction purposes. Nature is out, except again for short walks. Connecting with loved ones is, shall we say, fraught. In person is out, except for brief distanced visits. Over the many months of working from home I have come to hate video conferencing; I have to do so much of it for work. So it’s texting and phone calls, when we can, with friends who are also dealing with hardship and loss and have less to give themselves.

No need to say that having someone over to give us a hand or even just be a novel face for Echo to interact with, instead of having to look at me and only me day in and day out, is out of the question.

I have been doing some sewing; mostly a stack of post-surgery pants for Echo.

(Surgery hasn’t happened yet, but we have a new-new date: Dec 3 for the bad hip. There was one pre-surgery appointment last week, and there should be another one this week. In fact I am writing this post as a way to distract myself from hovering over the phone, as we’ve been told they should call with it today. I should be working; I can’t work. We’ve been told this date will only be changed again if the hospitals need to close. Of course, Toronto’s covid numbers are surging and the hospitals are filling up with covid patients. So.)

Otherwise I haven’t really been sewing clothes. The pandemic wardrobe I sewed myself in a flurry in the spring is still enough. According to the 30 Wears app, I’m just hitting 30 wears on the first of those makes.

Also, I’ve lost any sense of what constitutes appropriate dress over the past nine months, a fact that normally comes home to me most forcefully when I’m in line to pay for my groceries. Wait a minute–does this shirt go with these pants? Are these pants? What does ‘going with’ mean? Is it gauche to wear socks with this outfit? Did I remember to comb my hair today?

I should probably wait before sewing myself any clothes, is what I’m saying.

What I have been doing for stress relief, mostly, is embroidery.

Also a bit of art journaling, but mostly embroidery.

Mostly with scraps and stash items. There were some projects I was a bit short on, like the fiddlier goldwork threads, and some finishing items needed, like the pendant fittings, but on the whole, it’s been scraps and stash.

First: goldwork bugs, inspired by a beautiful goldwork reindeer in a recent issue of Inspirations Magazine, which I told myself I could consider after doing some kind of goldwork skills development with the materials I already had.

Second: A stumpwork pouch, just because the colours and fuzziness pleased me. Stash linen. I did have to buy a zipper. The actual embroidery for this wasn’t difficult or time consuming, so I plan to make another one, this time with more care for the closure.

Third: Because I enjoyed the turkey knot stitch so much, a bunch of little stumpwork bees. Yes, they are three-dimensional. The wings are wired. Stumpwork at such a small scale is very challenging because everything is so fiddly and all the stitches are tiny. But they worked out well. The above pendant is about half an inch in real life; it is a teeny, fuzzy stumpwork bee about the same size as an actual bee.

Fittings for embroidered pendants were purchased from Nunn Design, and were very easy to use.

Fourth: Applique pouch. Not done yet, obviously. Eventually it will be a dogwood applique. The pouch is then quilted. The ground fabric is leftover from a suit I made last year, and the patches are all scrap as well, as is the lining and batting.

Fifth: A floral cross-stitch on this black bamboo jersey top I made years ago, and never wore. Because it’s black, friends, and I’m allergic to solid neutrals, except for small quantities of warm greys and some browns. I used a bit of 14-count water soluble canvas and paper stabilizer and stitched over two squares to make it a bit chunky. (The shirt, by the way, is a Renfrew, modified to have a gathered front.)

Sixth: A mountain of holiday cross stitch projects: cards, tags, decorations. Because. Look, if you want mindless busywork to keep your hands occupied and your head focused on something manageable, cross stitch does the trick.

And if you make a mistake, you just pull the stitches out.

I do realize that this is a large pile of embroidered objects and I can’t possibly use all of them myself. I mean, one santolina pouch is already questionable, but two? Three stumpwork bee pendants? What am I going to do, wear them all at once?

No. I’m going to be giving a good chunk of them away. The function for me is just distraction and busywork so I don’t go crazy worrying over things I can’t control. Once they’re done, they no longer have a function for me. A few I’ll keep as remembrances of 2020, but most I’ll be glad not to see again.

Handwork is useful because it’s small, portable, doesn’t need any electrical devices, can be done well with small scraps, and is one-size-fits-all, so easier to give away. I’m hoping that this will be something I can do in the hospital during the surgery and immediate recovery. I guess we’ll see. Everything is still up in the air; if the surgery goes ahead on Dec 3, we still don’t know much about the recovery itself, except for “3 months in a wheelchair per hip with no weight-bearing activity.” And even that’s a bit of a guess, since the skeletal condition necessitating the hip replacements could very well complicate healing, and there’s no way to know as there’s no medical record of someone with Echo’s condition getting this kind of surgery.

I’ve been staring at this screen for an hour trying to think of a neat and tidy ending (of note: the deadline for the appointment call passed while I was doing so, so it’s time to harass doctors’ offices again), but the only thing we know with any certainty about the next year of our lives right now is that Echo’s pain will increase until the surgery.


*Echo/they is not really new, but they’ve been asking me not to make any announcements or use the new names or pronouns online for a while. Until they asked me to stop using the old ones recently, and weren’t keen on the idea of an announcement. So yes, I bet this is confusing, but there you go.

8 thoughts on “Stitches

  1. I enjoyed seeing your beautiful hand work! I have a stack of knitted hats that I will never wear…knitted to keep my hands busy! I usually have something on the needles but I didn’t realize how many I had knitted since March until I looked in my yarn drawer! There’s just something about doing handwork that keeps us sane! Keeping good thoughts and prayers for you and Echo in these coming months!

  2. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for so many years. This past year has been hellish on so many levels for everyone and the burden on you and Echo is especially heavy. Thank you for honoring their identity! I’ll be thinking of both of you and hope they have a successful and positive surgery.

  3. I started an English Paper Piecing Quilt just to keep my hands busy so I totally understand the urge to embroider. It’s something small, portable and requires a little bit of creativity, but not too much… and if I don’t make a quilt out of my hexagons that’s OK.
    Sending HUGS and wishing I could send you patience and grace.

  4. I am reduced to knitting mittens. Love the bees and the pouch. Holding both thumbs for Dec 3 date, virtually that is. The number of corrections I have made in one line of typing would lead one to think the thumb hold was real.
    Sending waves of good thoughts for Echo. And you.

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